Middle East
July 9th 2009
Published: November 4th 2009
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Old city of JerusalemOld city of JerusalemOld city of Jerusalem

The tower of David as viewed from Yamin Moshe neighbourhood
After returning from the Desert and the Mud Hut building experience we returned to Haifa to house and dog sit for friends. This was a well-needed rest period and I didn’t do much other than walk the dog, read and run. It was good to get back into a running routine, which is so hard to keep up when you are travelling, especially when you are doing hard physical work and with the heat here. It was nice to have the company of a dog again and the ten days passed in a flash.

Soon after this we went to Jerusalem for a few day. I wanted to venture more into the city and see it with people in, as my first and only experience was on the day we arrived in Israel, when we took a bus to see the Wailing Wall. But as it was so early the place had not even begun to wake up.

We took a bus from Haifa to Jerusalem; normally a two-hour ride, but today it took nearly four hours due to demonstrations by the Druse people along the road to Jerusalem and due to traffic hold-ups on the road into Jerusalem. When we eventually got to the central bus station it was a relief to get off the bus. The place was buzzing with people. The security checks were rigorous as we entered the station, with me having to walk through an x-ray section and another x-ray booth for the baggage. Here everyone is always on the alert for suicide bombers and the likes, it is something I mostly don’t think about, but these sorts of checks bring it home to you. The Israelis live daily with this threat and wherever you go there is security of a differing standard. The cafés, the schools, the mall, the public meeting areas, the bus and train stations, all have armed guards.

We walked out of the station into the heat of the day with people people everywhere, street sellers shouting their wares, differently dressed people from all walks of life. The really religious men, youths and boys in their black and white dress of long trousers, long sleeved shirts, overcoats (yes even in this heat) and the wide brimmed black hat over the Kippa. All with shaved heads except for the long locks down the sides of their head and the men with long beards. The women in long skirts, normally tights on the legs, flat shoes, and again with shaved heads in the extreme cases, but wearing a wig in public. The less extreme have long hair but just always cover it with a headscarf or hat, even in the home. Soldiers everywhere, but so young some of them don’t look old enough to be out of school, let alone be sporting a gun as part of their attire. One of the great pass times here seems to be eating and there are fast food stands everywhere selling Falafel, Shcuwarma (a kind of kebab in a pitta), cakes, breads, bagels, everything you can imagine and more.

We were soon in the market area, not the tourist market but the local market; this was again filled with people. The goods on sale were an eclectic mix of everything you could possible want and more. Clothes, shoes, bags, trinkets, toys, household goods, cleaning goods, beautiful stands selling herbs and spices, colourful stands selling fruit and vegetables, tempting stands selling baklava.

We found the meeting place we had arranged to meet with Michelle. She was kind enough to show us around and
City of all religionsCity of all religionsCity of all religions

Jewish father and his daughter
have us stay for a night. Michelle was also arranging for us to meet up with her cousin Daphne who lived just outside Jerusalem on a kibbutz and was converting old chicken sheds into useable structures, and yes you have guessed this is all done with mud and straw. Before taking us to meet Daphne we were given a bit of a tour by car around Jerusalem, and then on to some amazing caves just outside the city. These were caves that had been found back in the 60’s by accident by geologists who were surveying the land for the local gravel quarry owners. The caves were filled with the most incredible stalactites and stalagmites. We wandered around in total awe, they were just beautiful, again showing me that nature surely is the most amazing artist. The forms were just fantastical, the colours so rich. We spent about two hours just wandering around trying to burn the images into my mind as I had forgotten to bring my camera.

After this we were on our way to meet up with Daphne. She, along with a few others, was converting an old chicken shed (one of seven) into a dance
City of all religionsCity of all religionsCity of all religions

Muslem women coming to Al-Aktsa mosque
studio with rooms, living area and kitchen area for the dancers. The sheds were about 100ft plus long by about 25ft wide with asbestos roofs. The roof had been covered with a thick foam substance to keep the asbestos in an airtight covering. The main structure of the building was metal with concrete flooring. The whole building had been walled using mud and straw, the interior rooms were made using this method also. Everything was reclaimed from somewhere. There were lovely doors made from the wooden pallets that had covered the floors in the days of the chickens. A wooden and rubber dancing floor had been laid, the kitchen and living area had everything you may need, with the water system all coming from reclaimed grey water which had been cleaned and treated using plants and stones as a filtering system. There was a shower block, again all reclaimed materials, with bamboo screening and the famous composting toilet block. Daphne was an interesting lady who was also an artist; she spends her time travelling round Israel and the world volunteering on projects that are run by Eco minded people. We left with lots of ideas and with the chance to go back and help out on this project sometime in August, so I am looking forward to that. We finished the day with a trip into the German Colony in Jerusalem where we ate huge burgers for supper.

Michelle is a lovely, kind lady but typical American in many ways. She and her Italian husband made Aliyah and came to live in Jerusalem just over seven years ago and they now have three children. The family is very seriously religious with the different sinks, cutlery, crockery etc for meat and milk; she wears the covered head and the sack like clothes, and goes to pray daily. Her husband is even more run by religion, he seems to pray morning noon and night, I am not knocking it, it just seems a bit weird to me to think that someone can be that run by a religion.

After a night at Michelle’s she took us to the bus stop via the Tomb of Samuel, here there were two area’s for people to come and pray, one for women and one for men, it was quite interesting to see a group of women there to pray but also they had a picnic and a sort of women’s meeting down in the tomb!!!?? Very strange to me, but there we go.

We were duly dropped at the local bus stop and took the bus back into the centre of Jerusalem; again we had a walk through the local market, a hive of activity.

We went to the local YMCA as this was a fabulous building, a mix of Romanesque, Moorish, Muslim, oriental and western architecture with a bell tower of 40 metres, which I climbed up the very winding, worn stone steps to the very top and a magnificent 360* views of the city. The architect of this building also deigned the Empire State Building in New York. I spent time walking in the religious areas, watching the children playing in the streets, picnicking in a park under the shade of the trees. Generally just taking in the views sights and sounds of the city.

After a day of walking around and taking in the noise and bustle we found a nice little guest house, just by the German quarter which had a church attached to it, it turned out that the guest house, the St Andrews, had
Nebi SamuelNebi SamuelNebi Samuel

Jews praying on the grave of of the prophit Samuel
connections with Scotland. The Church was built as a War Memorial for all the Scottish Regiments who lost their lives during the British Mandate in Israel, with the attached residence, which was used as a hospice. There were lovely niches with Armenian tiles, and the church had a beautiful rose window, the gardens and terraces were lovely and the view to the old city uninterrupted.

In the evening we walked round the local area and came across a windmill…..Not quite sure what this was about, but for a moment I thought I was in Holland. The little walkways and pretty stone houses and apartments were a delight to walk through, as were the gardens, especially in the evening as the heat of the day was gone, and the scent of the flowers was wonderful. We found a little bar and sat outside and people watched as we drank a well-earned beer.

The next morning after a really good breakfast we set off to the old city of Jerusalem, walking through some beautiful areas of park/gardens and past lovely restored buildings. We went via the ‘Artists’ area, this was a street not far from the old city walls, both sides of the pedestrian only street were an array o different artists studio’s, from iconic art to weavers, to ceramics and painters, some were really inspiring others no so. There was one studio which I found fascinating, it was the studio of a man in his seventies who had taught art as well as been an artists most of his life. He was intriguing because his early work was very very precise, neat, and perfect, but his later work was completely different, different media, different art totally. He found all his canvases in skips or where people left bits of wood etc out for the rubbish, these then become his canvas and he paints in oils, very free, very large and sometimes very colourful pictures, all abstract. He attributes his change in style to the effect a heart attack had on him. He said as soon as he had received major heart surgery he came out and started to paint in this freer way. His art was very much my style and he was such an interesting man to talk to. He was happy that I wanted to talk to him about his art, he was not there waiting for me to buy, and when I said to him that I ‘play’ at art, he replied this is exactly what he does. I have to say he was very good at it.

When we arrived at the Jerusalem Old City, it was awash with people from many different cultures, I felt that the sounds sights and smells were battering all my senses.

There were the wonderful spice stands, stands with fruit and veg that looked more like a colourful painting, stands with beautiful leather goods, bags and shoes or wonderful woven rugs, incredible stands filled with sweets overflowing their containers (apparently the Arabs are mad for sweets and sugar things). Little booths were you can buy cardamom coffee, have a freshly squeezed orange juice, or iced coffee; there were mouth-watering stands with lovely bread and pastries. Then there were the not so lovely stands where you could buy your meat, and there seemed to be an awful lot of offal that I had trouble walking past without gagging.

The different quarters were interesting to see the Muslim, Jewish, Armenian and the Christian. We were stopped from going into the area of the Dome of the Rock, as we were not Muslims. We found the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a very important church for the Christian faith, this is where the new testament says that Jesus was crucified and is said to contain the place he was buried.

After this we walked through the now emptying passages in the old town back towards the newer city centre. We arrived back at the bus terminal exhausted, but in time to catch the bus back to Haifa. It was a relief to be in the air-conditioned bus after a hot day walking the old city and I slept most of the journey back to Haifa.

I have to say there is so much to see and experience in Jerusalem. I haven’t even been inside a museum yet, one could spend at least a fortnight here to take in the vast number of interesting buildings, to see the markets, to just sit and take in the scene, to walk the gardens, to enjoy people watching in a street bar/café. I will have to try to get back again before I leave.


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